Original article published in the Mower County Independent, Thursday, October 13, 2022. Reprinted with permission and gratitude.
By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Here’s the dirt on Joe and Patty O’Connell: They’re the citizens of 2022, even if it’s an award for older people.
“It’s exciting to be honored as the Kiwanis Citizens of the Year. We always thought it was for older people, so I told my husband, ‘We’re older people now,’” quipped Spring Valley resident Patty, speaking of the upcoming recognition that she and her husband, Joe, co-owners of O’Connell Excavating and Snow Removal, will receive after being chosen as recipients of the 2022 Spring Valley Kiwanis Club Citizens of the Year Award, for which a reception will be held this Sunday, Oct. 16 at the Spring Valley Community Center.
A notice issued by the Kiwanis Club confirmed that they are indeed the 2022 recipients of an award for which they will never be quite old enough. It shared, “The Kiwanis Club of Spring Valley has selected Patty and Joe O’Connell as the 2022 Spring Valley Citizens of the Year. Kiwanis Club President Dave Phillips said many great nominations were submitted but that Patty and Joe stood out to the Kiwanis board because of their long service to the community. Patty and Joe will be recognized by the Kiwanis Club on Sunday, Oct. 16, at the Spring Valley Community Center. There will be a public open house from 1 to 3 p.m., with a program highlighting their selection as the 2022 Citizens of the Year at 1:30 p.m. Kiwanis International is a world-wide service organization with a guiding principle of ‘improving the world one child and one community at a time.’ As such, the public has traditionally donated money to the club in honor of the selected Citizen of the Year to be used for the club’s annual Citizen of the Year Scholarship, which is given to a graduating Kingsland senior.”
Patty served as the family’s spokesperson as she shared that she and Joe grew up in the Spring Valley-Wykoff area – she in Wykoff and Joe Spring Valley since he was a very small child. “We got married in 1984, and we have four children, Alicia, John, Jason and Tommy. Joe and his two brothers bought out his dad and mom’s business in 1992. My husband worked different jobs until his dad had to sell because his emphysema was too bad, and that’s when Joe and his brothers bought him out. I work at Mayo Clinic, and I’ve been on the Spring Valley Ambulance Service since 2006.”
She continued, “We like to spend our spare time bowling, snowmobiling, riding ATV and motorcycle. We’ve been snowmobile instructors since 1995, and we and a bunch of other people started a snowmobile group. We’ve been on the Spring Valley Ag Days Committee, we’ve been part of the Kingsland booster club, Kiwanis, the Spring Valley Sportsmen’s Club, and Joe does just about anything…if there’s a fire and the firemen need somebody to tear apart a building, he’s always helped with that, so the firemen and the sheriff know that if they need somebody, they can call Joe. He’s always helped out – the community’s small enough that they know they can call him. It’s fulfilling for us to help the community.” She added, “We help at the VFW because we’re with the patriotic guard, so every Memorial Day, we stand guard at the cemetery while people come in.”
Perhaps three of the more visible investments that the O’Connells have made in the community’s youngsters are the couple’s donations of sandpiles for coin finds and the joy of digging in the dirt and of toy dump trucks for drawing prizes, as they shared before the 2019 Spring Valley Ag Days celebration, and their devotion to assisting with the Ag Days Soapbox Derby and the Fins and Films Cratebox Derby. At that time, she said, “I think it’s been about 10 or 12 years, but I’m not exactly sure when we started. When they started the Soapbox Derby, we put an O’Connell car in it and I saw that there were kids who were 6 and 7 years old in the Soapbox Derby, but there were all the little kids sitting around, and I was also on the Ag Days Committee, so I brought it up to them.” She continued, “The year after that, we started giving away a dump truck. We started out with the sand pile at Spring Creek Park, but with everything going on up at South Park, we moved it up there. The softball players and the people watching the games had all these young kids close enough for parents to watch them during the softball games. There are a few construction toys in it – a skid loader, an excavator – so that kids get a chance to sit there in the sand and play. People have asked why we don’t put money in it, but then the older kids would want to dig in it. We have a sign that says the sandpile is for kids of any age, and we’ve even seen adults digging around in it. ‘No cost’ is what we wanted, because everything else now costs money. This is the only thing left…the swing sets and the sandbox. We make sure that the sand is fresh on Thursday night for Ag Days, before we get busy with other community events. It’s for the joy of the kids.” The
O’Connell toy truck giveaway was begun shortly thereafter, as the O’Connells have felt that the drawing, done by tickets given to children under 12 years old, is important. “It is for the community. We’ve done this for Ostrander, Fountain and Wykoff, too, but Grand Meadow always does their own, but we do this for communities that ask for it. In other towns, we give away one truck, but in Spring Valley, we give away two to three items, and we have tickets for anybody under age 12. They get to have a ticket, and they have to be there for the drawing. The drawing is held in South Park by the sandpile, at 3 to 3:30 on Saturday, right where the sandbox is, and the small item is picked first, usually a pickup and trailer. The truck is the grand prize, and it always has ‘O’Connell’s Excavating’ on it because we have Jayson Smith put it on the truck. We do it then because we also have to help set up the dance, put up the stage for the dance.”
Ultimately, even though the couple is not quite “old enough” yet to be chosen as the Kiwanis Club’s Citizen of the Year Award, they look forward to the reception and hearing what their family and friends have to say about their service to Spring Valley and the surrounding area as people who meet the Kiwanis International guiding principle of “improving the world, one child and one community at a time.”
Again, the Spring Valley Kiwanis Club will honor Joe and Patty O’Connell on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 1 p.m. with a reception and program. The reception will begin at 1 p.m., and the program, featuring speakers who will share about the O’Connells’ contributions to the community, will start at 1:30 p.m. and last until approximately 3 p.m. All proceeds from gifts given at the reception will benefit the Spring Valley Kiwanis Club’s senior scholarships, providing funds for students to pursue postsecondary education after graduation.
Phillips pointed out that “donations this year may be brought to the community Center on Oct. 16 or sent to the Kiwanis
Courtesy of the Mower County Independent, 135 E Main St. LeRoy, MN 55951, (507)-324-5325